Funny, I never would have imagined speaking of Buddha and Dwight D. Eisenhower in the same breath. And yet, like old friends, they seemed to know that I was in desperate need of a chat, and they both arrived on my doorstep, as if bearing a nice cabernet and a shoulder.
Lately, I am in a perpetual state of busyness, and yet by the end of the day or week I wonder if I have accomplished anything at all. There are fires to extinguish. There are meetings before the meetings, and then follow-ups to the meetings. There is research to do. There are strategies to modify. There are agendas to develop. There are perpetual interruptions. And there are priorities that I feel must not be priorities because I’m simply unable to get around to them.
“When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” Buddha said.
Boy howdy, did I need a teacher! Buddha promised me one. I am ready. Bring him to me!
In a meeting the other day, someone tossed out an idea that I had come across before. It sounded vaguely familiar. It started slowly walking toward me out of the mist, and I began to recognize its countenance as it approached. “There is a difference between the important and the urgent.”
It was as if I was transported to a Batman comic book: Bam! Pow! I know this! I’ve seen it before! The Eisenhower Decision Matrix. “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” He was right. Reviewing this concept and applying to my daily work could improve my productivity, the quality of my work, and even my mood.
I can insert almost anything I do into one of the quadrants in the little chart below:
While much more of my time should be spent in Quadrant 2 above, it is apparent that too much of my time is spent in Quadrants 1 and 3. And if I were a betting person, I would bet that this is the same for most nonprofit executives.
More time in Quadrant 2 means improving the quality of the work; planning and being proactive instead of reacting to issues; sufficient time for research to feed critical decisions; communicating with finesse instead of just speed; building important relationships and taking care of myself.
Looking critically at the things I do on a daily basis, I think perhaps there are several modifications I could pursue.
- Manage expectations. In this time of instant communications, there is an expectation that we immediately respond to emails and voicemails, and to have an open door policy. In order to provide good customer service, I have always tried to answer any message within 24 hours, even if it is just to say that I will need a specific amount of time to fully respond. Sometimes I need to be more realistic with myself about the timeframe in which something can be accomplished, and in so doing, let others know what is reasonable as well.
- Subtraction is also a part of the equation. I cannot keep adding things to my load, or to the loads of others, without also removing things. Being more willing to say “no,” or “not now” or “if I drop this I can pick that up” will have to be part of this process. Some deadlines can be moved. Some things may have to wait.
- Ask for help. Are there things that volunteers could do to assist with the less important so I would have more time for the important?
Do your favorite nonprofit executive a favor. Remind him/her of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. If a general and POTUS could decide how to better use his time in this way, imagine what it could do for us! And as you consider how to live generously, giving this piece of information to an executive chasing his/her tail could be a generous gift indeed!
Denise K. Spencer
President and CEO